The Cleveland Indians
2018 Record: 91-71 (1st in AL Central)
2018 Payroll: $111,778,751 (19th)
Projected 2019 Lineup
- SS Francisco Lindor, .286/.357/.505, 6.4 WAR
- 2B Jason Kipnis, .248/.322/.408, 1.4 WAR
- 3B Jose Ramirez, .284/.374/.513, 6.0 WAR
- DH Carlos Santana, .251/.367/.453, 2.0 WAR
- 1B Jake Bauers, .245/.339/.415, 1.2 WAR
- OF Greg Allen, .249/.314/.349, 0.0 WAR
- OF Tyler Naquin, .262/.322/.408, 0.5 WAR
- OF Leonys Martin, .248/.307/.388, 1.1 WAR
- C Roberto Perez, .213/.304/.355, 0.7 WAR
Projected 2019 Rotation
- Corey Kluber, 209.0 IP/3.47 ERA/1.12 WHIP, 4.8 WAR
- Trevor Bauer, 193.0 IP/3.56 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 4.0 WAR
- Carlos Carrasco, 197.0 IP/3.41 ERA/1.13 WHIP, 4.5 WAR
- Mike Clevenger, 170.0 IP/4.00 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
- Shane Bieber, 139.0 IP/3.86 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 2.4 WAR
This has been a very quiet season for the AL Central champion Cleveland Indians. Trade deadline acquisition Josh Donaldson departed for a one-year, $23 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. Former relief super-star Andrew Miller signed to a two-year, $25 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals and former closer Cody Allen signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. And most notably, outfielder Michael Brantley signed a two-year, $32 million contract with the Houston Astros after spending ten years in Cleveland. A few other players departed — outfielders Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, and Brandon Guyer, utility man Adam Rosales, and pitcher Josh Tomlin — but their absences won’t be felt nearly as the absence of players like Brantley and Donaldson.
So, with a clear path to the postseason in baseball’s weakest division, what did the Cleveland Indians do to bolster their roster? Well, they looked ahead and extended star pitcher Carlos Carrasco until 2022, which is a good start. From there, Cleveland sent catcher Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals for prospects. Next, they brought Carlos Santana back to Progressive Field but gave up Edwin Encarnacion in the process. The team also acquired former high-end first base prospect Jake Bauers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Most recently, the team inked relief pitcher Tyler Clippard to a minor-league contract. There were a couple of other minor trades and signings in there — most notably, they re-signed Oliver Perez to a one-year contract with a 2020 option and signed former Tigers relief pitcher Alex Wilson to a minor-league contract — but overall, this was a very quiet and very disappointing offseason for a team in the midst of its competitive window.
2019 Season Preview
In 1995, legendary band Radiohead released their second album, The Bends, to critical acclaim. The self-titled track opens with a plea from Thom Yorke:
Where do we go from here?
The words are coming out all weird
Where are you now?
When I need you
24 years later, it is apparent that Yorke is a disgruntled Cleveland Indians fan and is appealing to the team’s principal owners, the Dolan family, and the team’s general manager, Mike Chernoff, to do something, anything to bolster their team. Sure, the Indians won the AL Central last year by 13 games, but the Astros absolutely embarrassed them in the postseason, sweeping Cleveland in three games while outscoring them 21-6. Houston then proceeded to steal Cleveland’s best outfielder, Michael Brantley, in the offseason on a very affordable contract.
So. Here we are. Two seasons have passed since Cleveland came inches within a world title and they have not come close since. How are their odds looking this year? Let’s break down the roster and see if it can compete with the other major forces in the American League, like the New York Yankees, the aforementioned Houston Astros, and the reigning champion Boston Red Sox.
Let’s start with what’s going right for the Indians. The left side of the infield and the rotation are elite. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are both arguably the best players in baseball at their positions and are both projected to post a 6+ WAR. The rotation, meanwhile, is led by three aces — Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco — and has two high-upside pitchers rounding out the rotation in Mike Clevinger (who posted a 4.3 WAR in 2018) and Shane Bieber. Cleveland will receive plenty of strong starts from this rotation, and barring injury, Lindor and Ramirez will be an absolute force-of-nature in the middle of the lineup and on defense.
Next, let’s talk about the rest of the team. First: the rest of the infield. Jason Kipnis is not the player he used to be from 2012 to 2016, but he should still be decently reliable for the Indians in 2019. Jake Bauers was ranked as Fangraphs’ #43 prospect the last time he received a prospect ranking and was mediocre at best for the Rays in 96 games last season. Roberto Perez, meanwhile, has been the clear back-up catcher in Cleveland since 2014, yet will likely start around half of the team’s games in 2019 after posting a -0.7 WAR in 2018. The team also acquired Kevin Plawecki from the Mets to split time with Perez, but Plawecki, like Bauers, was mediocre at best in 2018, posting a 0.6 WAR in 79 games.
We’ve hit the good and the bad, so it’s time for the ugly. First, the bullpen. This bullpen will be better than the team’s 2018 dumpster fire of a bullpen. 2018 deadline acquisition Brad Hand will lead the way. Although he is only projected by Steamer to post a 3.41 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, and a 0.8 WAR in 70 innings, that will be better than Cody Allen’s 4.70 ERA, 4.56 FIP, and 0.0 WAR in 67 innings last season. Setting up for Hand will be Adam Cimber, who came to Cleveland along with Hand in the Francisco Mejia deal, and Tyler Clippard, who was signed late in February. Former Tiger Alex Wilson will also eat a large chunk of innings, but with Dan Otero, Jefry Rodriguez, and guys like Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez rounding out the bullpen, this is going to get pretty ugly pretty quickly.
Finally, the outfield. Et tu, Chernoff? Leonys Martin will be the Indian’s best outfielder in 2019, and he was not the best outfielder for the Detroit Tigers in year one of their rebuild last season. Joining him will be Tyler Naquin, who hasn’t played 120 games in a season since debuting in 2016, and Greg Allen, who’s projected to post a WAR of zero.
So, can this team compete with the other big contenders in the American League? Absolutely not. This team is one or two starting pitcher or Jose Ramirez/Francisco Lindor injuries away from losing the division to the Minnesota Twins (who actually tried this offseason) or, in some bizarre alternate reality where Daniel Norris finishes top-five in Cy Young voting, the Detroit Tigers. That said, the pitching and the left side of the infield have been reliable for years now. This team should absolutely win the AL Central (and more than likely get swept in the American League Divisional Series again) this year!
Record Prediction: 87-75
Players to Watch
Jose Ramirez is very good at baseball. He posted 8 WAR in 2018. He hit 81 extra base hits. He stole 34 bases and knocked 39 home runs. He’s also a great fielder! In conclusion, you should watch Jose Ramirez play baseball this season.
Mike Clevinger’s breakout season was one of the primary reasons that the Indians posted a 91-71 record last year. Can he replicate it this year? Well, his .280 opponent BABIP last season was about in line with his .279 career opponent BABIP. He posted a 3.52 FIP and a 3.86 xFIP, but Fangraphs WAR is based on FIP, anyways. And his velocity last year was up across the board from 2017, and there’s no reason that it should go down this season, as Clevinger is only 28. There is no reason to expect Clevinger to regress in 2019.
29-year-old Danny Salazar remains a wildcard for the Cleveland Indians. He has flashed brilliance when healthy — most recently, he posted a 2.2 WAR and an extremely impressive 33% strikeout percentage in 2017, but he hasn’t pitched since the 2017 postseason. If Salazar can bounce back, the Indians will have an excess of riches in the starting rotation, making Salazar an intriguing player who could save this team’s bullpen (whether he does it as a lights-out late innings reliever or as a trade chip for another reliever).